Working from home

Coronavirus: how to meet OHS obligations for working from home

When working from home, employees are still covered under the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA), which means employers have an obligation to make sure the health and safety of their employees is maintained when they work at home.

Employers should consider a range of factors including communication requirements, managing workflow, use of equipment, and workers compensation requirements according to Safe Work SA. An assessment of the work area should be carried out, where possible, before the worker starts working from home.

When you find yourself working from home unexpectedly, you may not have access to the same type of office furniture and equipment you would do in an office. The following principles should be considered for computer-based work when setting up the space you have at home:

1. Select an appropriate work surface: find a work surface – whether this be a desk, dining table, kitchen bench etc, that allows you to sit upright and have relaxed shoulders with elbows slightly above the work surface height when typing. Ensure there is adequate leg space under the work surface and feet can be flat on the ground (or find something to rest your feet on)

2. Set up your chair: if you have an adjustable chair, you should set this up first to your preferred sitting height to your work surface. If your chair isn’t adjustable, ensure that it’s the right fit for the work surface you’re using. Where possible, ensure you have adequate lumbar support by either adjusting your chair so the support fits well into the curve of the lower back, or if you don’t have an adjustable chair, consider using a pillow or similar for support for a short-term solution.

3. Set up your laptop/monitor: Position your monitor directly in front of you, and at arm’s length from your seated position. If you’re working from a laptop or tablet, raise it up with a stable surface (e.g. large textbooks, sturdy box), so that the top of the screen is at your eye level. Where possible, set up your work area at 90 degrees to any windows to reduce glare reflection

4. Set up your keyboard and mouse: Where possible, you should use a separate keyboard and mouse. This makes the rest of your workstation more adjustable. Set up your keyboard and mouse so they’re on the same level, about 10-15cm between keyboard and edge of desk (for forearm support). Ensure your keyboard is directly and symmetrically in front of you, and your mouse is positioned directly next to keyboard. Place any other frequently used items within easy reach.

5. Workers Compensation arrangements for COVID-19: As detailed on the SafeWork Australia website, it can be difficult to prove that a disease was contracted in, or caused by, particular employment. In the case of a virus such as COVID-19, establishing the time and place of contraction may become increasingly hard. Workers Compensation authorities will consider each claim on its merits, with regard to the individual circumstances and evidence.

Other things to consider:

1. Take Regular Breaks: Without the natural breaks of meeting with co-workers or walking to the printer, workers tend to spend long periods in the same position, doing repetitive motions that may lead to musculoskeletal injuries;

2. Access/egress, emergency exit and safety equipment: Ensure you have a clear route from the designated work area to a safe outdoor location in case of fire. Clear any slip/trip hazards from access/egress areas. Have a suitable first aid kit and emergency phone number available. Ensure your smoke detector is installed and properly maintained.

3. Communication: Stay connected through phone calls, emails, video conferencing or instant messaging applications.

4. Be aware of your thoughts and feelings: Check in with yourself every day and remember some days will be better than others. Recognise triggers for stress and anxiety, breathe and seek support when needed.